The value of keeping a community connected during a crisis

by Nadia Heyd
05 May 2020

After seven weeks of at-home isolation, the the value of keeping a community connected during a crisis keeps coming up in our work at The Storefront.

In a previous blog post, I described some of the ways we have been keeping connected to our our community . I’ll recap these below.  Then, I’ll share with you what we’ve learned from staying in touch with people, and I’ll then get into what we’re working on in response to what we’ve learned.

How we’ve been keeping connected:

All of our staff have been reaching out by phone and email to all of the people we normally reach out to, including:

  • employers
  • people seeking work
  • grassroots leaders
  • people who usually participate in our in-person programs
  • donors and funders
  • partners who work within the community to deliver social services and supports

We’ve also been working diligently to get messages out to our community via our KGO Updates newsletter and on our Social Media Channels, so that community members can have access to all the latest information about supports and services to help them through the pandemic.

What we’ve learned:

SO many things!  I’ll focus on just a few:

  • Nearly 20% of our community tells us that they do not have access to the internet at home. And another 8% have access “sometimes”. 
  • When we ask people to tell us how their daily lives are being impacted, the most frequent response we get is that people are feeling isolated or alone. 
  • When we ask people what The Storefront can do to help, they most often say that they appreciate the news and updates we share, and even more, they appreciate that we reach out to them individually by phone. 
  • The specific supports and services people want to know about or access the most are food banks/meal programs, employment/training help, help with filing taxes, and help with understanding and accessing financial aid that governments have made available

What we’re working on in response to what we’ve learned:

Can you imagine not having access to the internet at this time? 

  • Our best data show us that just under 20% of our community do not have access to the internet. And another 8% only have some access. That tells us that in pre-pandemic times, The Storefront was, functionally, an internet service provider for something like 1 in 4 people in our community. The computers in our community resource centre and employment resource centre are vital to people who live in the neighbourhood, and now they’re out of reach. 
  • Our response: A member of The Storefront’s team meets weekly with other agencies and City of Toronto representatives. One of the things the city announced recently is that free WiFi is coming to 25 apartment buildings in low-income neighbourhoods across the city.  We don’t yet know whether it will come to any of the buildings where our community members live. In the meantime, we are researching the feasibility and cost of getting internet access and devices into the hands of our community members who currently don’t have them. We know that we have strong community leaders who, if they had access to internet and devices, could be powerful crisis responders, helping others throughout the community. And if we can manage it, we’d also like to ensure as many people as possible who currently don’t have internet access or devices can get them. If you can help in any way with this, please get in touch!

Our response to people who are feeling isolated or alone.

  • Feeling isolated or alone is not a good way to feel. We will keep on phoning people in the community, because we know that this is meaningful to them. Our Youth Leadership Coordinator and Grassroots Connections Coordinator have also been working on creative ways of getting our regular programs into an online format. For the 70 to 80% of our community with internet access, we wanted to be sure we have robust programming in place to keep the momentum of these initiatives going. We have online formats for ACEY (Association for Committed and Engaged Youth), Youth Zone, and Sport for Change, and we’re considering how we can do this for more initiatives as well.

Our response to the challenge of Food Access, a priority for people in the community

  • The Storefront’s “core” work is facilitating collaboration between people and groups so that people in the neighbourhood can have access to resources and opportunities that support their well-being. When people in the community need food – and they need food now – we do what we do best to help. 
    • One way we are facilitating collaboration: working with our longtime partner 5n2 Kitchens and a new collaborator, Square Roots GTA we are requesting $10,000 from United Way that would allow these 2 volunteer-driven organizations to work together so that hundreds of people who face food insecurity can get fresh produce and pantry staples delivered to their homes. 
    • Another response: We’ve put 5n2 Kitchens in touch with our friends at Dow Canada, who responded to the great need for food with a $2,000 grant to support 5n2’s food delivery initiatives.

In neither of the above responses to the food access challenge will The Storefront see a financial benefit. It’s not like Storefront doesn’t need philanthropic contributions to help facilitate collaboration – we absolutely do. But right now, people in the community need food, and our role as connector and convenor is an important one that we recognize and so we step up. We know in our bones that there is value in facilitating collaboration.  In both of the examples above, our involvement is what led to things coming together.  

We also know that many people value the work The Storefront does as a “Community Backbone” organization. As it’s #GivingTuesdayNow today, I would like to give thanks to you for your connection.

A big Storefront Thank You also goes out to: 

  • everyone who has ever made a donation to The Storefront 
  • everyone involved in approving funding for us,
  • and and extra special thanks to everyone who has made an unsolicited donation since the pandemic isolation measures began in mid-March including
    • all of our monthly donors who invest in our “Connected Community” work each and every month. 
    • 3 anonymous individuals (you know who you are!)
    • Rotary Club of North Scarborough
    • The Northpine Foundation
    • RBC

Not a Storefront supporter yet? It’s easy to become one! We’d love to welcome you if you choose to build community this way with us.

Please keep safe, and keep building community! We can keep on fostering social connection from a distance, together.

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